Throwback post: On Creativity (With Kate)

From time to time I’m going to share old posts that are no longer available from my personal blog. This is one of those posts, with some new commentary at the end. Enjoy!

I got to see Kate (and Sylvia) yesterday, and as should be expected from two people who met through NaNoWriMo, the topic turned to creative pursuits.

Or lack thereof. Maybe that’s a better way of phrasing it.

I’ve been a big fan of being creative super late at night, at those wee hours of the morning when all is eerily quiet and shrouded in darkness. There’s nothing, less to distract me.

The problem is that there is no way for me to actually create at this time. I prefer to have my schedule on something of the same page as Matt’s because it is way easier to get things done when he is gone, rather than while he’s home or asleep. With him pushing his schedule towards the early side, (his alarm is set for 6 or something absurd) I can’t afford to stay up until 3-4 writing or painting or whatever. I would end up sleeping through most of the time while he is at work, which just doesn’t work. I may get more done creatively, but I would also end up very frazzled.

So the alternative is to pick up my creative spot and move it to something more convenient. Which is a very grown up thing to do, and ultimately why I prefer to stomp my foot like a 2 year old on a tantrum. NO. I don’t need a TIME to do things. If I can’t do it at night, I will just do it at any ol time, and it will work out just fine.

Which is why on average of every 10 days, I manage to forget to do my 750 words, and my streak drops back to zero. Because I don’t take it seriously, because I don’t believe that it should have something of a dedicated slot in my day. Because the best time, the time that makes the most sense, is morning, and I really don’t like mornings for getting things done.

Kate and I talked a bit about routines, which neither of us particularly want, but to some extent see a necessity for. She pointed out that for her daughter Sylvia, routines are important. They give her security, allow her to know what to expect and what is expected of her.

We like to think as adults that we have the freedom to do ‘whatever’ we want. But the truth is, I think we function better when we know what to expect, and what is expected of us. I can see that with Matt.

Since he started aiming to be at work at 7, his mood has improved. Sure, he gives up a bit of freedom in that in order to adhere to this, he can’t really stay up until 1 am, and he has to pull himself out of bed in the morning. But knowing that if he gets in at 7, he can expect to leave around 3 gives it a nice definition for him…and for me. But I can also see where his actual position with work is frustrating him. He is working towards this nebulous “deploy” which will allow him to move up in the programming world. The problem for him is that there are no visible benchmarks. He doesn’t know what he is working at, and cannot see tangible progress. To this extent, not knowing what is expected of him is frustrating.

Thinking about the concept of routine from a child’s perspective helps me clarify things that I’ve expressed before – that I felt that I really thrived in high school and have had a more difficult time since. I don’t have a clear definition of what is expected, and haven’t quite developed the skill of reasonable self-expectations. (I am getting better with it than I was even a couple of years ago, but I am still not where I would like to be)

So, maybe I need to see more of Kate and Sylvia before they pack off and head to DC for the summer. (If that’s even possible!) I don’t know about her, but I enjoy bouncing things back and forth. After spending time with her, something always looks a bit different.

As for me and my words – well, much as I hated coming to the conclusion, I decided that mornings are the only time when I consistently know I will have the ability to write. Pushing it off until later in the day is asking for some sort of interruption. So, while I still need to refine the process, I’m currently content with trying to get my writing going before noon. Some days are earlier than others, depending on how much sleep I got or what needs to happen that day, but right now, noon is a good benchmark.

2020 Commentary:
What I love about my thirties is that I feel so much more settled in my skin. I tried, failed, fell on my face a thousand times in my twenties, and while I still do – I fall on my face a lot less, or at least in new and different ways.

Picking a time and sticking to it is something I still struggle with, particularly when it comes to things that can happen “any time!” and even more so during the pandemic, because so much can happen at any time – or no time. It feels like there’s very little middle ground. But I am FAR better now than I was when I wrote this (I’m guessing eight years ago? Maybe nine? I can’t remember how old Sylvia is!).

I have a far bigger respect for routine and how good it makes me feel when I stick to one. I was getting pretty good at that before the pandemic hit, and while I’m coming back around, I admit that I’m still ‘holding my breath’, waiting for things to go back to ‘normal’ – I know I need to stop that, but it’s easier said than done.
One of the biggest boons to my ability to stick to a routine is a planner. For years I resisted planners because I wanted to get things done naturally, or because I didn’t feel like I had enough stuff that was ‘planner worthy’. Well, as it turns out, putting everything down on the planner is totally acceptable, and a great motivator for getting things done. If I put down “wash Gwen’s ears” on Sundays, it’s way more likely to get done than if I don’t. When I write down that I want to finish a certain book in that week, I feel like I’ve scored a touchdown when it’s Wednesday and I’m done.

So when it comes to creativity, try and fail! You won’t know what works for you unless you know what doesn’t. While I don’t tend to set a strict time for doing things, having an idea of whether I want to get it done in the morning, afternoon, or evening usually offers just enough structure for me to work with.

Don’t judge your brain for whatever routine or structure it needs to work best. Throw lots of creative spaghetti at the walls and see what works best for you. Sometimes it’s the unexpected thing that will really work well – other times, the answer is right there and you’re pretending that it’s not.


Also, I miss Kate. <3

More on the 5am thing

I’ve been doing this “get up at 5am and do stuff” thing for about a month now. Despite the relative quiet on my blog, I’ve been really productive. My goal was to start getting to the gym regularly and to spend more time drawing. I think it’s going well.

I’m still figuring out what kind of gym schedule I prefer. This week, I am trying Mon-Wed-Fri for the gym and using the extra time on Tuesday and Thursday to do whatever I feel like. Today, it’s writing this blog post. Sometimes I clean my office and sometimes I just sit and snuggle my cat. I always spend at least an hour working on art.

What’s great is that doing the creative work in the morning relieves the pressure of trying to cram it in after my day job, when my brain is fried and I just want to relax. I’ve been watching TV and playing video games with my wife, and even getting some reading in before I go to sleep most nights. We even go out to get coffee and write sometimes.

So, I’m still making adjustments and figuring things out, but overall I think this has been a good change for me.

5am: Day 1

I stayed up to watch the Super Bowl with my wife last night. After that, I had trouble falling asleep because my body was basically saying, “Dude, what are you doing? It’s not even midnight yet.”

5am arrived sooner than I would have liked.

Thankfully, my wife — who is awesome — had set the daylight alarm clock to go off at 5am, so when my tablet started playing music at me, the room was already bright.

My gym clothes were already laid out, so I got changed, ate a yogurt, and got to the gym a bit before 5:30. I worked out for an hour and was home by 6:30. After showering and eating a banana, I had my coffee ready to go by 7am — my regular wake up time.

I generally start work at 8am, so with an hour to play with, I decided to fire up Medibang Paint and create some art. It only took 30 seconds of staring at the blank canvas to understand that my brain is not quite ready for kicking ass this early, so instead of shooting for “art”, I just played around with the different brushes that the program offers, just to see what kinds of things they do.

The end result is basically a toddler’s fever dream:

I hope this isn't the one thing I do that survives the ages.

I hope this isn’t the one thing I do that survives the ages.

I feel good. I’m tired from not getting enough sleep, but I think that will work itself out over the next few days. I love that I’ve already exercised today. I’m going to need extra coffee, and I need to eat more food, but I’m glad I tried this.